The NYT’s Scott Shane has an excellent piece of reporting today, on how,
- The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”
What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.
… Several Guantánamo documents, including the chart outlining coercive methods, were made public at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing June 17 that examined how such tactics came to be employed.
But committee investigators were not aware of the chart’s source in the half-century-old journal article… The 1957 article from which the chart was copied was entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From Air Force Prisoners of War” and written by Alfred D. Biderman, a sociologist then working for the Air Force, who died in 2003. Mr. Biderman had interviewed American prisoners returning from North Korea, some of whom had been filmed by their Chinese interrogators confessing to germ warfare and other atrocities.
So let’s spool back what happened here. Someone in the military (or the CIA?), wanting to use a quick and handy chart on coercive techniques that can generate “confessions”, finds one in the Biderman article and copies it verbatim. Do we assume that whoever copied the chart from the article, read the rest of the article and thereby became fully informed that the “confessions” generated by these techniques were, for the most part, quite false?
False ‘confessions’ have consequences, and not just in a courtroom (where they can rapidly lead to the collapse of the whole case against the individual who was tortured.) If the ‘confessions’ obtained in Gitmo through these coercive techniques were taken at face value and believed by members of the relevant US government agencies, then that would have led to actions that, being based on false information, would place in extreme jeopardy not only the US campaign against the terrorists but also the lives of many US service-members.
Therefore, whoever advocated and went along with the use of these coercive techniques should be investigated and perhaps even tried on charges of placing the lives of U.S. service-members at risk.
The FBI, for its part, has long known the risks and dangers– both inside the courtroom and outside it– of any reliance on coerced ‘confessions’. Some of their agents expressed their deep professional concern at the coercion they saw being applied in Gitmo and other US detention centers.
These coercive techniques– torture, as we should call them– are not only deeply, deeply, anti-humane and anti-humanitarian.
Not only has their revelation been deeply harmful to the US’s reputation around the world.
But in addition, their use– and any reliance the US and its allies might have had on the “information” obtained from them– have spread false “information” throughout the whole US intelligence system and put American lives at additional risk.
End it. Now. Close Guantanamo and all the US’s extraterritorial prisons. Return our country to the rule of law.